Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Looking for a sign
I rather like this image. It has something old set against newer things that have evolved around it. Positively it speaks of engagement - the cross at the centre of the marketplace. It points to the unchanging relevance of the good news through history and the fabric of faithfulness woven in the past extending into the future. Yet I am not satisfied with it as a communication of church. The cross looks old rather than relevant, it is adorned not stark, it is dwarfed by all that surrounds it, it looks more to yesterday than tomorrow a monument to a different world - it looks if anything like the tombstone of christian faith. So what would an appropriate image of church be. It all depends on what we think church is and on this point I sense some confusion around the Western World in particular.
I enjoyed this sign outside the Cathedral in Hong Kong. I very much liked the idea that there was a place for "castaways". The good news is for the poor, the blind, the prisoner, the marginalised. Somewhat strange that the chaplains are not going in the same direction as the castaways but the pathways of the clergy and of the lost do not always intersect. The mention that "counselling is available OFF SITE" I find paricularly humerous. Yes we want to help - but not here. Still you cannot complain about the amount of things that are going on and if you are looking for David Kwok it looks like his room should be pretty easy to locate. This kind of sign says "Service Center" and to give them their due they are collecting second hand goods for distribution (thats what you are supposed to take to the castaways if you were confused)
Roll Up Roll Up the wonders of the world presented for your edification, entertainment and delight. This sign is not from an actual church but many have bought into the idea of church as entertainment centre. We seek to organise the best events for children, youth and adults. If we build it they will come. It is a pretty sure fire model for numerical growth, good music and funny stories in the services, great coffee afterwards, fun kids program and plenty of car parking. ( I could probably write a 5 step church planting handbook fleshing out the virtues of each of these). It is good to have fun but recasting the preacher as raconteur will tend to produce a low cost discipleship and events orientated church can easily turn mission into organisation and produce a group of consumers rather than a community of faith. It can also be a hard place to go in the tough seasons of life.
So how about an oasis? A place of refreshment and protection. I believe passionately in hospitality, primarily in the home but in community contexts too. I have been in deserts and seen the way that life centers on the oasis. In "Thirst for Life" we produced the "River of Life" exhibition which was themed on the verse "where the river is there is life". For this to work though there needs to be access to water. Jesus offered living water to the woman at the well, springs that welled up to eternal life. So if this sign is to connect the welcome needs to go beyond the superficial and the oasis needs to be firmly centered on the person of Jesus not the physical place. We need to get beyond ideas often articulated of "just forget about your life, leave your problems at the door, come aside to worship". Thirsty people do not arrive at an oasis to forget about their thirst they come to drink. Definitely some potential though. I wish more churches were more welcoming. Properly welcoming. Jesus welcoming. Well come in! Welcoming.
Ah but you don't really understand. Other churches are not where it is at but our church is there. Sure in the past we might have been a place of healing and education but now we have moved on. This is the headquarters of a revolution. You say you want a revolution, w all want to change the world. Much is being made in the US about evangelical christians finding common ground with secular progressives who are passionate about and working towards many of the same goals such as "eliminating poverty, saving the environment, promoting justice and equality along racial, gender and class lines"
As one enthusiast wrote "After that final session on leadership and systems, I saw one group right outside the stadium in a huddle, with their arms around each others’ shoulders in a big circle. To psyche themselves up for the difficult change-making process they’ll face back home, they were chanting, “We’re going to change our system, We’re going to change our system…”
As hundreds of church vans slowly filed out of the huge stadium parking lot, I was wondering: Can there be anything more powerful than a movement that systematically and self-critically strives to change and improve itself?"
Now don't get me wrong here I believe in revolution. But the kind of revolution that is being spoken of here falls short of being the Jesus revolution. Jesus revolution has a spiritual dimension - it is to do with God's relationship with humanity and has an eternal perspective, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. See the sign in the picture is actually a nightclub. I am sure there is plenty revolving going on but I doubt many revolutionaries but you never know.
Oh dear. I am starting to sound a bit judgemental. I know that the number one thing that many in my generation identify as making it hard to follow Jesus in the real world is their experience of church. So it is great that we can set up our own place where only judges are allowed! I think there are some huge challenges facing church leadership globally. We are at a generational watershed in the passing of the leadership baton from the Baby Boomers to Generation X. Problem is the boomers don't want to let go and the X ers have a much clearer idea of what we think things should not be like than what what they should or could be like. There is too much folding of the arms and passing judgement in my generation. I would hold my hand up to that personally - except it's hard to do when your arms are crossed. It is not wrong to think critically but we can't build authentic community based on negativity.
I like this sign because it makes me smile. I like the idea of a 1000 smiles. I like that they are genuine and are neighbourhood. I don't know exactly what they are selling. It could only work as a church sign if the centre was changed to "God is Good". There has been a lot of fuss in recent days about British atheists and agnostics paying for a poster campaign on buses saying "there probably isn't a God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life". Some Christians have responded with "There is a God. So stop worrying and enjoy your life". The common ground seems to be enjoy your life. The key to that lies not just in the existence of God but in the nature of God. I don't mind the response, (I actually don't mind the campaign if it would actually get people to think). But we cannot do evangelism on a "this is how you can have more enjoyment in life arm wrestle with other philosophies or ideologies.
So I have a lot of sympathy for this sign. But we need to show it in words and in lives, as God has showed it in history in His Living Word and in His body and as God shows it now in his Word and in His Body on earth.
I thank God for every experience I have glimpsed of this in action around the world.
They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person's need was met.
They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.
We need to learn what it means to be the people of God in the world today. This is not as difficult as it sounds. Some things have characterised being the people of God from the first days of the church until now. The challenge is to have confidence in those things as the foundation but to imagine how it can be fleshed out in vibrant living today.
We are not to try to run the everything store. We need clarity of vision and commitment to build on the one foundation. I want to serve the purpose of God in my generation. I want something which is biblical, authentic and engaged. I am not tired of going to church but I am tired of being treated as if church is something I go to rather than people I belong with. Why is so much effort expended organising the few hours we spend together and so little resourcing the time we spend apart?
This sign is a topical response and it kind of makes sense. But isn't that a bus stop?
Starting with what we know is a good place to start if we don't want to miss the boat -or the bus.